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What I’ve Learned: Agnes Upton

76, Malta

I was born in Malta, where the sun shines almost every day.

Ever since I was a child, I have loved the sea.

I met my husband, Mike, on the island in 1965.

By 1968 we had two children, and every weekend we would go to the beach with our friends – the men went snorkeling for a couple of hours while we women swam with the children.

We met Ken Riley, who offered to teach us to scuba dive. He later suggested that we form a club and get international certification.

As qualified teachers – I taught primary school – we would do the formal lectures while Ken would do the practical training.

I wrote to the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) headquarters and got the go-ahead to form an amateur club, provided we could get eight members.

There were four men and me, so we ropedthe other three wives in to get to eight.

That club, Calypso Branch 393, still exists!

We started Maltaqua Dive Centre in 1972, saving enough to buy a small Poseidon portable compressor.

Equipment was hard to come by so we made our own backpacks from fiberglass, lead weights in a mold chiseled from a block of the local limestone, weight belts from upholstery webbing, buckles shaped from brass rods, and Beaufort airplane life jackets from an army surplus store.

It was so rudimentary thatwe had to carry a pencil on dives to poke the nonreturn valves to remove the air when ascending.

In 1972, Maltaqua was Malta’s only diving school. Now there are more than 60.

In 1979, Malta asked for independence from the UK. Things got a little heated politically.

Most Britons living here left, including Ken, so the hotel where we did our pool training was left without a scuba diver to monitor moorings and take hotel tourists diving.

The hotel manager asked if one of us would take over Ken’s job. I was the only Maltese national who could legally work so I took it on.

Initially it was difficult as I had two young kids and no money to buy equipment.

The sexist male divers of that era were unsure of being “bossed” by a young female, until they saw me in the water.

The hotel manager helped with renting scuba gear for me when I had students, and my mum looked after the kids.

Another problem: I could teach and qualify divers only if they were Calypso Club members, not tourists at the hotel, and there were no professional dive centers at the time. 

While attending a DEMA show, my husband came across PADI® and was impressed with the training system.

Mike and I crossed over as PADI Underwater Instructors – a rating that’s no longer issued – in 1980.

Maltaqua Dive Centre became a PADI facility, number 1019.

My fondest memory of PADI is when we hosted Steve Metcalf to run the first Instructor Training Course in Europe in 1980.

I was trained on the BSAC/CMAS program, which evolved from the military and was quite strict. Steve gave dive training a holiday/fun aspect.

Around the time I became a PADI Instructor, government permits to teach diving were only issued to BSAC/CMAS instructors. Being so new, PADI qualifications weren’t recognized yet. 

Douglas Nash (from PADI) and I presented the PADI manuals and eventually the Medical & Health official agreed to accept the PADI training system and certifications for the issue of diver and instructor permits.

At last, we were able to offer PADI courses to locals and tourists.

After that, the most challenging and enjoyable dive instructor memory I have is when Mike and I trained some of the cast from the 1980 film Popeye. 

Half of the cast were circus professionals, with Robin Williams starring as Popeye.

What a character. He was so much fun but a nightmare to teach, as everything turned into a comedy act! 

By that time, we already had a small wet suit production. 

For that film Mike and I made the largest (for Bluto, played by Paul Smith) and the smallest (for Swee’pea, played by the director’s baby grandson) wet suits I’ve ever seen.

Think twice and speak once.

The best piece of advice I ever got was from my mother, who used to quote a Maltese saying, “Il-Bahar zaqqu ratba u rasu iebsa,” meaning the sea has a soft belly but a hard head.

The biggest regret I ever had is losing my mother while she was still relatively young.

The one trait you need to be a good wife is trust. 

Always have time to listen to your kids, no matter how tired or busy you are.

The secret to happiness is sharing your life and ambitions with your partner.

Mike is now 82 and I am 76. We are still active but recognize the limitations age brings.

I am afraid of getting too old to dive.

Our son Shaun is a PADI Course Director, while grandchildren Leah and Sam, and son-in-law Jes are PADI Instructors. We dive as a family and are very closely supervised.

Live for the day.

Based on an article that appeared in the Second Quarter 2021 The Undersea Journal®

The post What I’ve Learned: Agnes Upton appeared first on PADI Pros.

Europe, Middle East & Africa, Diving Lifestyle, Instructor, Malta, PADIPADI Pros

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